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Your photographic language, part 1

Lan-guage - noun ( lan-gwij )
  1. a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having an understood meaning
  2. the vocabulary and phraseology belonging to an art or a department of knowledge
When talking about language in photography there are two areas that have their own  vocabulary; the technical aspect of photography and the artistic side or visual language. In this article we will talk about ways in which to expand our technical vocabulary.

In order to communicate with others in this field, and be understood, we have to be familiar with the nuances of the descriptive language used in photography. Without this language teaching becomes troublesome, ideas get misunderstood and communication among peers becomes convoluted.

Tangible objects are described by their physical aspects; height, weight, color, what it's made of, etc. We use words that help us understand what it is we are describing. In our workplace we use language particular to the task we need to perform in order to be productive. Art deals with concepts, ideas and emotions therefore the language is more complex.

Photography has a language all it own with words and concepts not used in other fields or words that have a unique meaning not found elsewhere. Understanding this language facilitates learning. It is difficult to understand what an aperture preview button does if you don't know what aperture is or what depth of field is or even what the button itself is called.

Photography is a very complex and technical field of study. It is also a very broad field containing many specialties within it, each having their own variations in terminology. Food photography will use terms not found in fashion photography or architectural photography. Start talking lighting and you might as well be talking a whole new language.

Learning the language is part of the whole photographic learning process. Along with techniques and theories you will also be learning all those specialized terms. Some come easy while others you learn as you advance. Yet others you will find have more than one meaning depending on the context in which it is used.

Learning this new language is not an easy task. Like learning the techniques, it is a pyramid where one layer is built upon another. You can't start building up if you don't have a solid foundation. Start by learning from the pros. They have mastered not only the language but how to explain it in a manner that we as novices can understand. Read their books, watch their videos and attend their workshops.

Take lots of mental notes. Once you have collected a handful of terms, start using them. Make them part of your vocabulary. Familiarize yourself with how they are used and they will become your foundation for advancement. Concepts will begging to become clearer, explanations will become less laborious and you will begin to feel less an amateur when mingling with other photographers.

In the next article we discuss a photographer's visual language.


  1. Love the illustration and definition at the top. It really draws me into the blog post!


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